|Wednesday, August 6
Sabean's strong beliefs fueling Giants' success
By Rob Neyer
SAN FRANCISCO -- Brian Sabean doesn't have a lot of patience with stupid questions.
I know this, because when I talked to him during spring training last March, I could tell that he considered a number of my questions stupid. He answered all of them, but some of his responses were hard to make out between the gritted teeth.
Which isn't to say that Sabean is unkind. He just doesn't suffer fools gladly, something that's true of a lot of my favorite people.
So when I was ushered into Sabean's private suite at Pac Bell Park Tuesday night, what did I do? I asked a stupid question, of course.
Neyer: "Maybe this is just a lack of sophistication in my analysis, but when you look at the stats in USA Today, obviously Barry Bonds jumps out at you, and Jason Schmidt jumps out at you. And there are a few other guys having good years, but I think a lot of people would look at the numbers and ask, 'Hey, how is this happening? How do the Giants have a 12-game lead?' "
Sabean: "Well, that's the problem. That's why it's not a sophisticated analysis. From an experience standpoint, we're off the chart. From the standpoint of veterans who have been through this, we're off the chart. From a depth standpoint, we've certainly been as deep as anyone in baseball. From a confidence standpoint, the bullpen has been nails.
In today's game, when there's so much parity, and you have a veteran team that's run by a veteran manager, and on a daily basis doesn't make many mistakes ... and you have a good defense along with our pitching staff, and you're going to be in most games. Stats themselves really don't bunt."
(Of course stats don't bunt. And I don't think Sabean said they bunt. But he said something that sounds like "bunt" on my tape recorder. Maybe he said they don't hunt (as in, "That dog won't hunt.). But he probably didn't say "bunt" or "hunt." He probably said they do something else, and he probably didn't say, "Stats themselves don't really need any help in suggesting how the San Francisco Giants should be run.")
(And then I tried to ask another stupid question.)
Neyer: "Last year you used six starting pitchers all season, and only five after April. This year you've already used 11, and Sidney Ponson's going to make it 12."
(You'll notice that there's not a question mark at the end of that last sentence, the reason being that I didn't get a chance to ask my stupid question. Sabean saw it coming -- he's good at sniffing them out -- and headed off the stupidity before too much more time was wasted.)
Sabean: "Yeah, but you know what? That's revisionist history. That's like saying, 'Woe is us because we lost Dusty Baker. Woe is us because we lost Jeff Kent.' Well it's not woe is us, because Ray Durham is a different kind of player than Jeff Kent, but Ray Durham is a pretty damn good player. And on and on and on. So each year's a year unto itself, and you don't look back and see how you did it last year, and with whom. Baseball changes, and the landscape of baseball changes. To my way of thinking, there's more parity in baseball this year, especially in the National League, than at any time in the history of the game.
Neyer: "There were some people" -- OK, me; but I'm not going to admit that now -- "who looked at Felipe Alou and saw an old manager whose successes had come mostly with young players. What made you think he was the right man for this team?"
Sabean: "He was born to manage. You look at his resume, and how many games has he managed? It's probably something like 4,000, including winter ball, the minor leagues and the major leagues. When you've been through that much, at that many levels, there isn't much that you don't see, or don't get involved with, whether it's a young player or a veteran player."
Neyer: "I don't think the Giants have ever had a lead this big in August. Does that change the equation at all, in terms of what you're trying to get done on a day-to-day level."
(Yet another stupid question.)
Sabean: "No. I don't think there's a player down there in the clubhouse who's comfortable with being up 12 games. Because we saw how fast we went from three games up to 11 games up one home stand. With a bad week, and a good week for somebody else, you can go the other way in a hurry. So we're respectful of that. And again, it's only August 1st" -- actually, it's August 5th and you can count the number of teams that have blown 12-game leads in early August on one hand, but why quibble? -- "so you maybe get into the middle of September, then you can start counting the games. Our concern now is getting (Kirk) Rueter back healthy, getting (Sidney) Ponson introduced into the mix, and winning series each week. We're not even really close to counting down the time when you're at the end of the line."
Neyer: "You've got four hitters who are at least 36 years old -- including 42-year-old Andres Galarraga -- and all of them are playing well. How do you go about choosing those guys? And has age become less relevant these days?"
Sabean: "The first thing we look at, when we're identifying who to keep or who to bring in, is what kind of baseball players they are. How well rounded they are. We don't like a guy that's all bat and no field, and we don't like a guy that's all field and no bat. The more players you can accumulate who are all-around baseball players, no matter what their age, you're going to have a better chance. The day that they're not swinging the bat well, they'll make a play for you defensively to win a game. Or vice versa.
"So age become a moot point. That's obviously been Barry Bonds in a nutshell. You can do unbelievable things in the game no matter what your age is, if you're a well-rounded player. They condition year-round. The money that they're able to make is exponentially that much greater. You get veteran players like that on a good team, and you give them a chance to win a World Series ... that carries a lot of weight."
Neyer: "You've got two teams here in the Bay Area, and though you and Billy Beane obviously do a lot of things differently, you're both very successful. Which might suggest that there's more than one way to win baseball games. Is that something you think about?"
Sabean: "Not really. Good or bad, right now Billy's short-term legacy is how they do business, and supposedly that's now the Nirvana, but that's not necessarily true. I know Billy as well as anybody, and he does trust his amateur scouts, and he does trust his major-league scouts, and he does trust his development people. And while he may weigh the statistics more than we do, he looks at the other stuff.
"And we do the same thing, too. Whether it's checking a guy's background, checking his overall health history, checking his statistical trends ... but more so, in our case we just happen to have a collection of experienced scouts, and I'm talking about hundreds and hundreds of years scouting at the major-league level and playing at the major-league level. So when you get their input, it becomes so diverse ... I think we had nine different reports by six different scouts when discussing Ponson. And when you get information that's so individual, coming from that one person with his subjective opinion, but then the collaborative, overall information becomes objective because everybody's saying the same thing. That's very difficult to ignore. And to me, that's more important than the statistical trends. Because the ability to compete, and the ability to play the game the right way, counts for a lot."
Neyer: "Did you read Moneyball?"
Sabean: "No." (No?) "Ned read it" -- Ned Colletti is the Giants' assistant GM -- "and he thought there were some good lessons learned, some passages that he found interesting. Let's put it this way: It's one man's opinion as to how you can do things, but it's also in my mind a writer taking it hook, line, and sinker as gospel, and we know that's not true. I don't think Billy meant to be portrayed that way. I think, unfortunately for Billy, the writer had a literary license and took it to an extreme. Nobody's got all the answers."
Of course, since Sabean hasn't actually read Moneyball, it's hard for him to know exactly in what way Billy is portrayed. What's more, I happen to think that any general manager who doesn't read Moneyball isn't doing his job as well as he might. But you know, considering how many games Brian Sabean's teams have won over the years, I'm pretty sure he doesn't give a tinker's damn what I think.
And I can't say that I blame him.
Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site.